Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ short-story collection The Informers arrived at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year surrounded by a cloud of bad buzz, and throughout the fest, journalists lined up to tee off on the film, calling it vapid, tedious, and pointless. But though The Informers is by no means great—nor wholly true to the vision of Ellis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Jarecki—moments sprinkled throughout the film capture Ellis’ particular mix of flip yuppie satire and lived-in paranoia better than any big-screen version of his work to date. Anyone who spent a portion of the ’80s with a well-thumbed copy of Less Than Zero on the shelf might even feel a little pang at The Informers’ voyeuristic portrait of rich Los Angeles wastrels exploiting each other.
Granted, there are so many wastrels in this movie—many of them interchangeable—that it’s tough at times to keep everybody straight. Billy Bob Thornton plays a gruff Hollywood power-player who’s been cheating on his horny, drug-addled wife (Kim Basinger) with a neurotic TV newscaster (Winona Ryder). Brad Renfro (in his final role) plays a desperate, cash-strapped suburbanite who’s trying to leverage the kidnapped boy he’s keeping in his bathtub into a better life for himself, with the help of thuggish beach bum Mickey Rourke. Meanwhile, asshole rock stars, idle rich kids, and diseased party girls weave through the film, rubbing up against and running over each other. The Informers is a flashback to early-’80s L.A., populated exclusively by people who suck.
Jordan doesn’t do these characters (or his movie) any favors by presenting their lurid adventures at something close to face value. The Informers should be more aware of its own unsavoryness, and revel in it a little. As it is, the movie is far too weighty, as though it were honestly trying to convey some kind of cautionary message. (Um… don’t go back in time and do drugs, kids.) The Informers is also missing Ellis’ intended subplot about vampires, which might’ve given the film more metaphorical kick. Still, anyone who enjoys the surface glitz and cheap thrills of Ellis’ books may find it worth suffering through The Informers’ more earnest passages to get back to the sex, drugs, violence, and rock ’n’ roll. At the least, Ellis fans should watch the movie’s opening 10 minutes, which features a decadent Hollywood party and a horrific automobile accident, all set to Simple Minds’ “New Gold Dream.” Ah, remember when.